"Philosophy is like trying to open a safe with a combination lock: each little adjustment of the dials seems to achieve nothing, only when everything is in place does the door open." Ludwig Wittgenstein

Friday, June 10, 2011

RESPONSE NUMBER FORTY-THREE To Galatians Re-imagined: Reading with the Eyes of the Vanquished (Fortress 2010) by Brigitte Kahl

Professor Kahl's brief Conclusion (pp. 287-89) summarizes what Kahl asserts has been demonstrated in this investigation.

Kahl believes (p. 287) that she has shown that "the entire letter is a 'coded' theological manifesto of the nations of the world pledging allegiance to the one God who is other than Caesar . . ."

Is this description of the intent of the writer of the Galatians letter meant by Kahl to be taken ironically?

A manifesto is a public announcement of principles or intentions. A cryptic statement cannot be described as a manifesto because the intended meaning of a cryptic message is something other than what is stated in the literal message. This is the opposite of manifest-o.

The coded-manifesto conundrum is twinned with that other conundrum, already commented upon, wherein what the Galatians letter may be taken to mean by subsequent, unintended readers is retrojected upon the mental processes of the writer as his personal, intended meaning given by him to his own words.

For some readers, the Galatians letter may become "a passionate plea to resist the idolatrous lure of imperial religion and social ordering" (Kahl at p. 287). But evidence is lacking that Paul meant for such a coded message to be read into his statements by readers he addressed in Galatia.

What is up with Galatians?

Paul is confronting sharp criticisms of his own authority and message, raised by Jewish messianists, who were victims of his brutal treatment of them when he operated as an enforcer of temple and synagogue mores. (See my article, “Paul and the Victims of His Persecution: The Opponents in Galatia” 32 Biblical Theology Bulletin No 4 (Winter 2002) pages 182-191.)

Paul's over-heated response to his critics in Galatia is to denounce to his wavering converts his victims' description of himself. He insists he is not a transgressor of Torah who represents no one. After making these denials, Paul launches into a reassertion of his theological claims, which had earlier impressed the Galatian converts. 

By this gambit, Paul is changing the subject. He dismisses his critics and devotes the balance of his dictation to a reprise of his complicated rearrangement of Jewish religious history, which elevates Abraham at the expense of Moses and invites gentiles into allegiance to a Jewish messiah by denigration of the rituals propounded by Torah, because Torah is limited chronologically, ending with the advent of Messiah Jesus.

It may be true, as Kahl concludes (p. 288), that Paul did not see himself as "breaking away from Judaism." But in fact, by demeaning Moses and denying the validity of Torah observance, this is what he did.

One further irony. In a book which expressly declares the "commonality" of all, we are told in the last sentence of the Conclusion, that "only" by seeing things as Paul prescribed, do we see things aright.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

RESPONSE NUMBER FORTY-TWO To Galatians Re-imagined: Reading with the Eyes of the Vanquished (Fortress 2010) by Brigitte Kahl

Professor Kahl adds a brief (pp. 285-87) Postscript to Chapter Six, which is a pean to Albert Schweitzer and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. 

These two theologians are bonded, Kahl suggests, in that both turned toward a "non-religious" interpretation of faith as a commitment to life lived for others. Schweitzer, in the early decades of the twentieth century, turned his back on a career as a theological professor, obtained training as a medical doctor and established a hospital in West Africa. 

Bonhoeffer, a professor and pastor in Germany, turned away from establishment Lutheranism and entered into active but secret resistance to Hitler. Before his execution in the closing days of World War II, Bonhoeffer penned prison letters, in which he speculated that authentic Christian life would be marked by prayer and "righteous action" and a new language "perhaps quite non-religious."

Schweitzer and Bonhoeffer, Kahl suggests, are representatives of her understanding of the Apostle Paul by their having discerned through faith, an activist ethic which invited daily service in the interests not of self but of others. 

Kahl finds this activist impulse (1) in Paul, expressed in his cryptic Galatians letter (2) in Schweitzer, through an appreciation of Paul's mystical doctrine of being in-Christ and (3) in Bonhoeffer, by way of his insistence that the Christian life is lived for others, not for self.

The unstated premise here is that one can apprehend what Scripture meant by declaring what it means in the life of persons who lived long after Scripture came into being.   

In Kahl, Paul's Galatians letter is taken to have meant certain things because it is taken to mean these things by subsequent readers. Here, Kahl proposes subsequent readers of Paul, two once-famous and still influential German theologians of the century past, as exponents of her understanding of Paul's mystical (cryptic?) doctrine of life lived for others.

Kahl invokes Schweitzer, specifically his book on Paul, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle (1931) and suggests that Schweitzer's life in Africa as a physician amounted to a "second volume" (p. 285) of this investigation. 

Looking to Schweitzer as a model for Christian faith in action, one perhaps ought to acknowledge his movement (intellectually if not emotionally) away from the Christian faith. This transition was expressed in other volumes, such as Indian Thought and Its Development (1936), in which Schweitzer states, "the commandment to not kill and to not damage is one of the greatest events in the spiritual history of mankind [. . .] so far as we know, this is for the first time clearly expressed in Jainism." 

But Schweitzer also said: "The [Ahimsa] commandment [in Jainism] not to kill and not to harm does not arise, then, from a feeling of compassion, but from the idea of keeping undefiled from the world. It belongs originally to the ethic of becoming more perfect, not to the ethic of action."

Paul's Galatians letter is read, worried over, and is a source of solace today because it was taken up by the Catholic church as Scripture and retained in the Catholic canon by offshoots of Catholicism. Because Paul's statements are read as Scripture, his sentences are given innumerable applications by subsequent believers.

One may apply to one's own life the doctrine that life is lived for others. One may suggest, as Kahl does, that Schweitzer and Bonhoeffer lived admirable lives dedicated to the wellbeing of others and may even suggest, as Kahl does, though less persuasively, that Schweitzer (not Bonhoeffer) derived his life-for-others doctrines from Paul.

But do these assertions demonstrate what Paul meant

We read Paul as Scripture, thereby attempting - expecting to be able - to apply what we read to our own circumstances.

But does reading Paul with the eyes of faith reveal what Paul meant?

What Paul meant - before his words were taken to be Scripture - is discerned by a rigorous examination of his words in their manifold contexts. 

RESPONSE NUMBER FORTY-ONE To Galatians Re-imagined: Reading with the Eyes of the Vanquished (Fortress 2010) by Brigitte Kahl

Professor Kahl discusses (pp. 281-85) Gal 3 and 4, proposing that this section of Paul's letter offers specific support for her re-visioning of the letter by way of Paul's discussion of "Father Abraham" (Ch 3) and "Mother Sarah and Mother Paul" (Ch 4). 

To Kahl's credit, the phrase living under Roman occupation must be evaluated as a factor in assessing the context of Paul's letters, just as living under occupation must become part of any summary description of Paul's career.  

But Kahl's further assertion, that the emperor was the focus of Paul's belletristic productions, remains unproven. This is so because Kahl's engagement with Paul is conducted in this book in a manner removed from a detailed consideration of what Paul wrote. 

A second reason why Kahl's placement of the emperor at the center of Paul's Galatians polemic is a failure to assess Paul essential Jewishness. Paul, Jew of the Diaspora, was a rigorous practitioner of Torah observance, prone to violence against Jews who asserted that Messiah had come and dethroned Torah. When Paul himself was  converted to the same conviction by way of a mystical experience, he felt himself called to missionize Gentiles; his message was: you can know life through Messiah Jesus as spiritual heirs of Abraham without observance of the ritual law of the Jews, without Torah. 

Failing to come to terms with the center of Paul's polemic, Kahl misplaces the Pauline emphasis on ritual law, by shifting the discussion away from Torah and seeing Roman law as the actual center. This is a misconception of Paul's central concern with Torah.

Paul's primary focus on Torah and Kahl's neglect of this focus comes clear, I believe, by looking more closely at the third and fourth chapters of Galatians, which Kahl treats (pp. 281-85) in summary form.

Paul's Galatians letter is addressed to the collective membership of assemblies he had organized in Galatia (present day central Turkey). Paul writes (dictates) this missive after antagonists in Galatia had denounced Paul to his converts. Neither the substance of the criticisms directed against Paul nor the identities of the opposition are made clear in the letter. What is clear that Paul's critics have had an effect upon his converts, to the detriment of Paul's work and reputation among them.

Paul's Galatians letter is framed as an answer to arguments made by these antagonists. Neither the tone nor the substance of the arguments Paul makes in Gal 3 and 4 is defensive. Rather, he is re-stating motifs he had presented in person, earlier, when present in Galatia.

In Gal 3-4, Paul asserts that his stupid erstwhile converts must have come under an evil eye, since before their own eyes Messiah Jesus was portrayed as executed (v. 1). 

Paul demands to know: 
- was it by observance of Torah or believing your own eyes that you received the divine presence within you (v.2)
- have you begun with the divinity only to end with mortality? (v. 3) - - was everything you did in vain? (v. 4)
- did the One who infused divinity in you and worked miracles in you accomplish this by your observance of Torah or believing your own eyes? (v. 5)

Paul answers his own questions (v. 6) by invoking Torah (Gen 15:6): Abraham trusted in JHWH and this was deemed a righteous act.

Paul offers (vv. 7-29) a commentary on Gen 15:6, which becomes a commentary on Torah generally:

- surely you remember that those who live by trust [in God] are Abraham's descendants  (v. 7)
- Torah prophesied that those who trust in God are the righteous among the nations since God promised to Abraham beforehand (Gen 12:3) that all nations will be blest in you (v. 8)
- which means that all who trust in God are blest through Abraham's faith (v. 9)
- because those who observe Torah are cursed, as it is written (Deut 27:26): cursed are all who do not keep and fail to do all that is written in the book of the law (v. 10)
- since it is obvious that by keeping Torah, no one is righteous before God because (Hab 2:4): only by demonstrating faith lives the righteous man
- keeping Torah is not a matter of trust (Lv 18:5) since by what one does, one lives (v. 12)
- Messiah has nade us no longer objects, to be bargained, under the curse of Torah because he has become cursed himself, fulfilling what was written (Deut 21:23): cursed be all who are hanged on a tree.
- so then: in Messiah Jesus, to the Gentiles has come the blessing upon Abraham, since you have received the divine presence through your own faith.
Jewish religious history foretells the appearance of a Messiah, who will, by divine intent, draw adherents from among both Jews and Gentiles. Paul further asserts that the Messiah has now come, was executed and was raised from among the dead, into the height of divine cosmic rule.

Paul argues that the death by execution of Messiah Jesus brings life grounded in the power of the advancing reign of God. Life in God entails, for Paul, freedom from reliance on any base (basic, elemental) cosmic forces. Paul adds that these cosmic elements never did possess the power to give freedom and life.

What about Torah? 

Paul concedes that Torah has its source in the one, true God but, Paul argues, Torah is inferior to the promise made gratuitously by God to Abraham, a promise of life based upon the new messianic foundation, available to all of Abraham's spiritual heirs.

Paul further asserts that Torah is also subordinate to the contract (covenant) made directly between God and Abraham. The contract between these two parties specifies that, by virtue of Abraham's offer of faith, the gifts of life and freedom would be shared by all who, like Abraham and his primary heir, Messiah Jesus, trust in God. Torah plays no role in the implementation of the covenant.

What then was the purpose of Torah? 

Paul asserts that Torah is a divine but inferior gift that was given to restrain misconduct. Torah, in Paul's view, never did offer life to anyone.

The conditional nature of Torah is demonstrated, Paul asserts, in the conveyance of Torah by way of angels and Moses, third parties, acting as mediators between God and the people. This mode of conveyance, Paul asserts, is in contrast to God's direct dealing with Abraham, inasmuch as God made a promise directly to Abraham and entered into a contract directly with Abraham.

The promise to Abraham was made gratuitously by God and remained effective as to Abraham's heir, Messiah Jesus, and also to Abraham's many additional heirs, of many ethnicities, who subsequently adhere to Messiah Jesus.

The contract between God and Abraham bound both parties; Abraham offered faithfulness to God and God, by way of Messiah Jesus, offered both freedom from elemental forces and eternal life.

Because of the chronological and authoritative inferiority of Torah to the prior Abrahamic promise and the contract made directly between God and Abraham, Paul classifies Torah as a no-longer effective cosmic element.

Professor Kahl does not address many specific statements found in the Galatians letter. Instead, Kahl proposes a dramatic shift in the meaning of Galatians 3 and 4, by isolating certain of Paul's statements from the argument in which they appear. 

Kahl also proposes a different understanding of nomos, law. 

Nomos in Gal 3 and 4 is taken by Kahl to refer to Roman law, in the sense of Roman rule and domination of subject peoples. This shift in the meaning of nomos enables Kahl to propose the emperor of Rome as the one who affirms both Roman and Jewish nomos in a domineering and brutal way, which is antithetical to the freedom and messianic life Paul has offered in his preaching in Galatia. 

Kahl's second thrust toward a new perspective on Gal 3 and 4 is made by isolating discrete Pauline arguments, thereby freeing these Pauline rhetorical forays for a new interpretation, which is otherwise not plausible (to this reader), if kept within the contours of Paul's sustained argument. 

Two Examples: 

(1) Kahl's treatment (pp. 283-4) of Paul's reprise of the Galatian messianists' initial reception of him (Gal 4:12-20)


(2) Kahl's treatment (pp. 284-5) of the Hagar-Sarah analogy (Gal 4:21-5:1) 

Paul's Initial Reception in Galatia:

Professor Kahl sees this passage (Gal 4:12-20) as a paradigm of the Christian life, wherein Paul, sickly, possibly near-mortally ill, embodied the Messiah in his otherness and weakness. 

But to this reader Gal 4:12-20 is not about the Galatians' "solidarity with a weak and despised other" (p. 283). Kahl is reading too much into Paul's invitation to his converts to reminiscence about their initial reception of him. 

These verses contain a dramatic outline of Paul's helplessness and the Galatians' generous hospitality towards him. This recollection reads like an individual, who finds himself estranged from his interlocuteurs, reminding them, how well they had treated him at first, when he was ill.     

The Hagar-Sarah Analogy

In Paul's analogy, the first son, born of the enslaved handmaiden, persecutes the second son, born of the free wife. Isaac and his lineage is favored by father Abraham, over his half brother, who is outcast, together his spiritual lineage. Paul presents these mythic events as analogous to the situation of the Galatian messianists, who are the spiritual heirs of Isaac.  

Professor Kahl sees Gal 4:21-5:1 highlighting the image of Jerusalem "above" as "representing a new international exodus of Jews and nations out of Caesar'e empire." In this reading, Hagar "becomes the allegorical representation of the not-one (3:19) as one-against-other that has hijacked Torah . . . " (p. 284). 

This is very forced. It is unlikely that Paul's auditors were expected by him to identify Hagar, an enslaved concubine, with contemporary representatives of Judaism, who demanded circumcision of them and who are stand-ins for Jewish representatives, who supposedly reached an agreement with Caesar, by which the emperor is prayed for in the temple and Diaspora Jews thereby are exempted from participation in emperor-worship throughout the empire.  

Kahl's take on the reminiscence passage (Gal 4:12-20) and the Hagar-Sarah analogy (Gal 4:21-5:1) loses purchase when isolated from Paul's argument in Gal 3-4. In these chapters, Paul is attempting a summary of Jewish religious history, which includes, from a Jewish perspective (then and now), an intolerable denigration of Torah. 

Paul does not assert that Torah was 'hijacked' by anyone. Rather, he argues that Torah never was adequate to fulfill God's salvific purpose for humankind, a purpose which entails freedom and new life, not by way of the continued observance of Torah but rather through allegiance to Messiah Jesus. 

These chapters read as the distinctive, idiosyncratic interpretation of Jewish religious history, which Paul worked out in the decade following his conversion to messianism, after his earlier career as a devout and violent enforcer of temple and Torah oriented Judaism. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

RESPONSE NUMBER FORTY To Galatians Re-imagined: Reading with the Eyes of the Vanquished (Fortress 2010) by Brigitte Kahl

This post is prompted by endnote 91 in Chapter 6 (p. 367).

Professor Kahl, amplifying (p. 283) her comments about Gal 3:19-20, offers a unique reading of this text, which amounts to a concise summary of the thesis of her book.

Kahl is commenting on the phrase henos ouk estin (Gal 3:20)

“But a mediator is not one (lit: ‘not of the one’), but God is one.”

Kahl writes that “this most cryptic statement . . . is a coded reference to Caesar.”

Elaborating further, Kahl finds that Paul, “in guarded language . . . evokes the core conflict of the entire letter as the idolatrous claim of the Roman emperor as the supreme guardian and grantor of law vis-a-vis subject nations, including Jewish law, and the enslaving powers unleashed through his false promises and decrees of ‘law mediation.’

Is it plausible that Paul is referring explicitly, though cryptically, to Caesar? I suppose, once the view is taken that a comment is deliberately "cryptic" then it follows that a comment can mean anything. 

But the plausibility of a particularly novel suggestion comes always into play. Kahl in this footnote reads Gal 3:20 in light of Gal 1:1 - Paul’s assertion that his Gospel is “not from men nor through a man” - which Kahl suggests is “a puzzling reference” and which may also point to Caesar. 

In Gal 1:1 the emphatic, repetative negative (not from . . . nor through) does not suggest this is to be taken as a cryptic comment. More likely, Paul is asserting a divine source for his missionary authority, while denying a human source - as may have been alleged of him by critics in Galatia. If so, Paul does not have in mind the Roman emperor or any other particular individual and his dictated comment more likely means not from mankind or not from any human source.

My conclusion is that neither Gal 1:1 nor 3:20 should be taken as a reference to Caesar.

In this case Professor Kahl’s proposal is not sustained. Caesar is not characterized in Galatians as a false god, who is countered by Paul, who asserts belief in what he insists is the only true God, who made direct promises to Abraham, conducted arm's length dealings with Moses and is father of Messiah Jesus.

It follows that, if Caesar is not in view in Galatians, then nomos (law) in the Galatians letter is not to be taken as a reference to Roman law (however defined) and that the phrase “works of the law” ought to be read, not as the obligations of subject people to worship Caesar, but rather as a reference to Torah observance.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

RESPONSE NUMBER THIRTY-NINE To Galatians Re-imagined: Reading with the Eyes of the Vanquished (Fortress 2010) by Brigitte Kahl

Professor Kahl summarizes (p. 281) Galatians 3 and 4 as "a grand restatement of Genesis that revolves around the theme of oneness"  - by which is meant the one God, who reconciles divided humanity (Jews and Gentiles) into a new oneness as "siblings of Christ."

Kahl sees Paul's presentation here as "a programatic reconceptualization of God's people as a multitude of nations" (p. 281).

Kahl urges upon her readers the proposition that Paul's reconceptualization "cannot be seen as an innovation within the Jewish reference system alone" (p. 282).

This assertion is a fair summary of Professor Kahl's thesis that the Galatians letter is a semi-cryptic communication to oppressed communities, living under a brutal empire, against which regime the Apostle Paul in his missive, levels a subtle critique of its coercive, ideological pretentions.

Kahl's assertion that Paul's Galatians is more than a statement, which marks his distance from his former allegiance to Judaism, faces an important question, unanswered here: by whom "must" Paul's statements be seen as imbedded in a context larger than the "Jewish reference system?"

- By Paul himself? 
- By his intended readers? 
- By his opponents and critics?
- By readers today?

Doubtless, Kahl could answer that her book passes over many important issues because she has not written a commentary.

But if one intends to argue to specialists for a new interpretation of Galatians, one ought to clarify where and how key statements from Paul do not fit the traditional explanation(s) and fit better in the new understanding of these statements. 

Case in point: Gal 3:2-5 and 3:19-20, read together by Kahl (p. 283).


My Translation:

2: Let me just learn this from you: Was it by Torah observance that you received the spirit or by trusting in what you heard?
3: Are you so stupid? Beginning with the spirit, are you now perfected in the flesh?
4: Have you experienced so much for nothing?
5: Again, does the one who infuses in you the spirit - also energizes powers in you! - [do so] by your observance of Torah or by your believing what you heard?


19: Then, why Torah? - As a supplement, because of misdeeds. That's why! Until the arrival of the promised descendant [seed] - conveyed through angels, by the hand of a mediator.
20: Now a mediator is not just one party. Yet God is one.  

Fundamental to translation is the choice whether to be literal or meaningful. 

Literally, ἐξ ἔργων νόμου (vv. 2, 5) means "by works of the law" but this awkward phrase appears more than once in the Galatians letter and demands a context for each appearance. Once a context is discerned, ἐξ ἔργων νόμου can be conveyed into English so as to permit Paul's statements to be comprehensible in his context. 

What is the context of Gal 3? Paul's remarks here are dictated in light of disagreement (Gal 2) about whether Jewish regulations as to food preparation and the acceptance of circumcision are mandated for those who give allegiance to Messiah Jesus. In this context, Paul is talking about Torah observance when he speaks of observance of the law (3:2, 5), and (v. 19) when he uses the word νόμος - law.

Professor Kahl's appears to acknowledge the Torah context but her re-imagination requires an added, broader aspect. 

The one offered by Kahl enlarges Paul's frame of reference to include the Roman occupation and its impact upon occupied peoples. The implication in Kahl's presentation is that both the immediate Jewish and the broader Roman context form the setting to Paul's comments.

But Kahl's broadening to include the Roman context effectively negates the context where Torah is in view. 

Kahl's interpretation of Gal 3:2 requires that 'works of the law' means the imposition of circumcision and Jewish dietary regulations by Roman authorities. If not a literal imposition, then Kahl would open the door to a worry by Diaspora Jews that this Messianic sect established by Paul, would get them all into trouble, if the sect claimed the Jewish exemption from worship of the emperor, yet without participating in conduct which clearly indicated Jewish identity.  

In this reading of 'works of the law' Paul is asking his erstwhile converts if they receive "the spirit" by either returning to the worship of the emperor or by way of their acceptance of the indices of Jewish identity?

But which is it supposed to be? Since dietary observances are no longer front and center in this letter and circumcision is, then 'works of the law' in Gal 3:2 is impliedly either circumcision or emperor worship, in the form of attendance at arena spectacles.

One doubts that nomos (law), appearing here in the singular, could have meant both Roman rule and also the Torah-imposed circumcision requirement. But Kahl thinks so, assigning to Caesar, not Moses, the role of transmitter of Torah. (See Kahl at p. 283, on Gal 3:19-20 and at p. 377, endnote 91, which I discuss, below.)

In 3:5, Paul asks the same rhetorical question of his erstwhile converts: what is the source of the gift of the spirit? This time Paul adds (shouting?) also, what is the source of the power you experience at work in your midst?! 

The difficulty posed by Professor Kahl's invitation to re-imagination a broader context is the unlikely circumstance in which Paul's readers could have thought about their experience(s) as messianic converts and reflected on these two, no three, options Kahl proposes: reception of spirit and power (1) by attendance at the games or (2) acceptance of circumcision, or (3) by Paul's impassioned preaching?

Abstractly, and especially in a document that is labeled as encoded, nomos can be taken as the Jewish rite of circumcision or attendance at the arena spectacles - all in contrast to Paul's impassioned preaching. But concretely, and more coherently, in the context of a discussion that began with a debate about dietary laws and, now about whether to accept circumcision, the clearer meaning for νόμος / nomos is Torah and not the Roman occupation. 

Because the word, nomos, most naturally means Torah in Gal 3, then the phrase ἐξ ἔργων νόμου - works of the law - is an incapsulated reference for:  Torah observance. The phrase does not mean: the required submission by subject peoples to the emperor's law and the imposition of Torah upon Diaspora Jews. 

Specifically (contra Kahl), works of the law does not mean: acquiescence to the demand made by local Roman authorities that the Galatians, not being exempt as are Diaspora Jews, attend spectacles in the local arena or amphitheater(s). 

Gal 3:19, 20: ". . . conveyed through angels, by the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator is not just one party. Yet God is one."  

These words are taken by commentators as a reference to the Sinai myth, in which Moses receives the laws and conveys it to the children of Israel. Some ancient traditions embroider the scene by the inclusion of angelic hosts. (Deut 33:2 LXX; Acts 7:38, 53; see Dunn's Galatians commentary [1993, p. 191]). This is doubtless the meaning intended by Paul.

Paul implies that the provisional aspect of Torah (coming 430 years after the promise: Gal 3:17) is evidenced by its conveyance with the aid of a mediator, assisted by angles. The absence of these two additional parties distinguishes and diminishes the reception of Torah from the promise of YHWH made directly to Abraham. 

Clearly, Paul has Torah in mind for his next sentence implies (v. 20) that the use of a mediator diminishes nomos inasmuch as "a mediator is not just one. Yet God is one." 

Kahl's view is quite different (p. 283). It is Caesar who mediates, i.e., enforces the Roman nomos upon the Galatians: "The law that condemns and exposes them as unlawful owing to their nonconformist identity is the law that is 'mediated' by Caesar, the idolatrous not-one in contrast to the one god of Israel (3:19-20)."

A mediator facilitates negotiations or communications between two parties. A mediator may also be thought of as a conveyor of some particular item or content between parties. The Talmud suggests that Moses' mediation at Sinai is analogous to a synagogue reading of Torah, with YHWH in the role of the Hebrew reader while Moses translates and interprets. 

But a mediator is not an enforcer. One does not think of a prosecutor or a police officer as a mediator of the law. 

Kahl's view that Caesar is the mediator of the law to the Galatians goes beyond both the plain meaning of mediator and the more coherent context found here: a reflection by Paul on the giving of Torah at Sinai, involving the mediation of Moses as well as the participation of angels, which is evidence, to Paul, that the giving of Torah is of a lesser quality than the earlier giving of the promise to Abraham.  

Sources for Galatians in Greek :

(1) http://www.kimmitt.co.uk/gnt/gnt.html

(2) http://www.greekbible.com/index.php

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

RESPONSE NUMBER THIRTY-EIGHT To Galatians Re-imagined: Reading with the Eyes of the Vanquished (Fortress 2010) by Brigitte Kahl

Continuing our consideration of Professor Kahl's explication of portions of Galatians 2 (pp. 279-81), this reader is struck by the forced and, unfortunately, contrived conclusions reached.

In the previous post, I commented on Kahl's treatment of Cephas' reversal of policy as to eating with Gentiles. 

At first, he is down with it, then he withdraws. But Kahl does not acknowledge his earlier willingness to eat in a non-kosher manner. Instead, Kahl interprets his withdrawal as ( p. 279) "enforced 'judaizing' of the Gentiles (ioudazein, 2:14) as in fact a gesture of civic/imperial conformism."

Professor Kahl wants to use this incident in support of the theory that the failure to keep kosher would somehow endanger the observant Jewish community in Antioch, and presumably in Jerusalem.

But if attention is drawn to Cephas' earlier practice of eating with Gentiles, where is the fear of the Romans?

The incident tells us that Cephas withdrew from table fellowship upon the arrival of observant Jews, not because of a fear of the occupying power.

I suppose one might argue that if I refuse to eat with you, I am forcing you to follow my cleanliness rules, but this is strained. Cephas, after at first ignoring Jewish cleanliness rules, changed direction when observant, messianic Jews arrived from Jerusalem; their arrival caused Cephas to revert to kosher practice.

By this reversal, Cephas was breaking fellowship with Christian Gentiles; he was not insisting that they themselves follow kosher dietary rules, out of fear of the Roman occupation.

In a similarly forced reading of Gal 2:14, Kahl has Paul (p. 280) express condemnation "not of a Jewish apostasy but of an idolatrous apostasy towards a non-Jewish imperial way of life that he calls ethnikos." Thus, Kahl wants her readers to see Paul expressing antipathy towards subservience to Roman rule, as manifested by Cephas' insistence that Gentiles adopt Jewish ways - in conformity not with Torah observance but with world nomos.

World nomos. World rule. The law of the Romans. Can this be what Paul is talking about in Gal 2:14 and following?

Professor thinks so and reads Gal 2:15-21 and its reference to "Works of the law" as Paul entering upon a discussion not of Torah observance but of "works of self-righteousness and vertical distinction between self and other."

This comment and subsequent ones (p. 281) may be acceptable as homiletical applications of 2:15-21, but this is not a delineation of what Paul actually says.

The text:

My translation:

15: But we, being Jews and not wicked Gentiles,
16: Know that no one is found acceptable by observance of the law ("works of the law") but rather by the faith of Jesus Messiah, and we trust in Messiah Jesus, that we might be accepted by the faith of Jesus and not by observance of the law, by which no one is found acceptable.
17: But! In seeking acceptance by way of Messiah, do we find him wicked? Or a servant of wickedness? Of course not!
18: Now if I rebuild what has been demolished even I would consider myself a transgressor!
19: For I, through operation of Torah have died to Torah - so I might live to God.
20: I longer live. Messiah lives through me! Yet I live on in the flesh, I live in confidence in the son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me!
21: I shall not denigrate God's goodwill. If acceptance is through observances, then Messiah died for nothing!

Paul is here engaged in a dialogue with Torah, that is, with his own former allegiance to God through the keeping of Torah. Although every reference to nomos - law in Galatians is not a reference to Torah, this is the meaning of nomos in these verses.

"Wicked Gentiles" (v 15) should be taken hyperbolically and perhaps sarcastically. To heighten the contrast between the Torah observance and non-Jewish uncleanliness, Paul may be saying filthy Gentiles.

Paul's assertion (v. 17) that "no one" finds acceptance before God by way of Torah is a statement no observant Jew could accept. Here, Paul has clearly placed himself outside traditional Judaism or even sectarian Judaism, since he is denigrating the very purpose of Torah.

Having positioned himself outside Judaism, he looks at this from the inside (v. 18) and acknowledges: if I were to re-enter the edifice of Torah observance, I would certainly see my former behavior (allegiance to a criminally executed Messiah) as a transgression against Torah. 

In v. 19, he steps back outside the old edifice to assert that his new status, life in God, has come about by virtue of his having abandoned Torah once and for all.

"I no longer live" (v. 20) ius yet another assertion of Paul's view that his former Torah observance way of life is "dead," having been replaced by his living confidence in the willing death of Messiah Jesus, who was a sacrifice for himself.

Verse 21 is shorthand; Paul way of summarizing the grand design (as he has worked it out) and asserting, 'Having worked out what God designed, which was that the futility of Torah observance would be demonstrated by the execution of the Messiah, I will not dismiss this design, since to do so would be to assert that it was for nothing that God permitted Messiah to be executed.' 

While I have misgivings about the edifice that has been erected on the rubble Paul declared to be Torah observance, there is no doubt that Paul is here talking about Torah, when he speaks of law. 

Professor Kahl sees matters differently.

Professor Kahl has Paul, voluntarily and for all important purposes, still on the Jewish side of the Jew-Gentile equation. She see Paul maintaining a double Gospel approach, one to Jews, one to Gentiles, over against Gentile world law, expressed through the Roman occupation. 

Kahl sees Paul expressing hostility towards those who bend the knee to Rome, by practicing a Judaism of civil conformism to the purposes of empire. 

It is this Judaism, which Paul condemns in Antioch and which Kahl suggests can, in an albeit convoluted way, as a sort of puppet of the all-controlling Gentile (Roman) way, condemns Paul as a "transgressor" (2:18).

But this very labored result - an observant Judaism of civil conformity - hangs together only by reshaping the Antioch narrative (Gal 11-14) to make it about coercion of messianic Gentiles, out of fear of local Roman authority. These themes are absent from the narrative, as Paul laid it out. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

RESPONSE NUMBER THIRTY-SEVEN To Galatians Re-imagined: Reading with the Eyes of the Vanquished (Fortress 2010) by Brigitte Kahl

Professor Brigitte Kahl, in Chapter Six, considers several sections from the Galatians letter. Kahl examines these verses to demonstrate the cogency of the primary themes presented in her book. 

A consideration of selected portions of the Galatians letter falls well short of a full blown commentary.  My opinion, expressed in earlier posts, is that a commentary is the best and possibly the only way to re-locate this document in a context different from the traditionally accepted one.

Kahl's central theme is this: those who have appealed directly to Paul's converts are representatives of Diaspora Jewish communities, who insist that Gentile, male messianists need to accept circumcision.

Why is this demand being made? 

Kahl speculates that representatives from the Jewish communities, residing in the province of Galatia, argued to Paul's converts that they all will come under severe sanction by the Roman occupiers. 

Why? Because the Gentile messianists must be observed by the Roman occupation as lacking foreskins to be deemed Jewish and thus, avoid punishment as irreligious traitors to the emperor.

The argument made in Galatia by Jewish representatives is that the Galatian gentiles, who desire to worship and live pursuant to the earlier preaching of Paul, must either accept circumcision or return to participation in the public worship of the emperor. 

As argued by Kahl, emperor worship, practiced publicly, would remove these Gentile messianists from the benefit of the apparent Roman-Jewish accommodation, by which the emperor is prayed for in the Jerusalem temple and Jews in the Disapora are not required to participate in formal, public spectacles by which the emperor is honored and worshiped. These public events include attendance at festivals, processions and staged, often bloody, death-dealing spectacles in local arenas. 

Kahl argues that Paul, in his Galatians letter, rejects both the accept-circumcision and the attend-spectacles options for his converts.


Kahl thinks that Paul's view, expressed in his Galatians letter, is that circumcision of the Gentile messianists - just as it is for Jews, also living under occupation - amounts to a denigration of Torah, since the Jewish-Roman accommodation is an unsavory collaboration with the empire. 

The second option, public worship of the emperor, is likewise, as Kahl has Paul argue, out of the question.

Why? Public worship of the emperor would amount to a denial of the messianic faith, which Paul preached among the occupied, non-Jewish  populations of the empire.

Kahl believes that many statements in Paul's Galatians letter are encrypted, double messages. She holds that Paul expressed himself in this manner because of the same anxiety that animated his critics - the danger of running afoul of a cruel occupation, should he or his intended recipients be caught out as anti-Roman.

To line up Paul's statements with the book's thesis, Kahl looks at Gal 2:11-14: 

My translation:

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I got in his face because he stood condemned. 
12 Before some people from James arrived, he would eat with non-Jews. But after they arrived, he stood back and held himself apart, fearing those of the circumcision. 
13 The rest of the Jews practiced this hypocrisy along with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away into hypocrisy. 
14 But seeing that he did not walk in the truth of the gospel, I told Cephas in front of all of them, 'if you a Jew comport yourself as a Gentile and not as a Jew, how can you insist that Gentiles act in a Jewish manner?'

Before getting to Kahl's understanding of this pericope, a few observations seem appropriate here:

(1) Paul's truncated re-telling of these events (more than a single incident), which occurred in Syrian Antioch, is the point of departure for the balance of Paul's comments in his letter.

(2) Paul is so focused (or anxious) to get into an anti-circumcision polemic that he offers no resolution or conclusion to the incidents he recounts.

(3) Paul passes over how others present might have reacted either to the withdrawal from table fellowship of observant Christian Jews or to Paul's confrontation with Cephas.

(4) The Gentile messianists in Antioch, whom Paul, ostensibly, was protecting against humiliation and rejection by their Jewish co-adherents, have no reaction whatsoever (in Paul's re-telling) to the events Paul describes. 

(5) Were the Gentile believers in Antioch as angry as was Paul, at the Torah-observant withdrawal from fellowship? Were they also critical of Barnabas? These questions cannot be answered but if the Gentile messianists in Antioch had joined Paul in an expression of anger, one might expect Paul to report this to the Gentile messianists in Galatia. 

(6) Perhaps the Gentile messianists in Antioch expressed sympathy toward Barnabas or toward Cephas, either of whom could have been seen as a searcher for a middle ground between extremes.  

(7) Some of the Gentile believers in Antioch, in addition to welcoming Jewish guests from Jerusalem, might have been understanding of their guests' lifelong Torah-inspired observances.

(8) The divisive issue in Antioch is Torah observance, specifically table fellowship between Jews and Gentiles. Notably, Cephas, by eating with Gentiles, was going further than required by the earlier agreement in Jerusalem; his conduct in Antioch signaled that he was freeing not only Gentiles but also Jews from Torah observance. Cephas' practice at table may have pleased Paul but not other Christian Jews, arriving from Jerusalem.

(9) After recounting his confrontation with Cephas, Paul, launches into an anti-nomos diatribe (Gal 2:16), which is sustained throughout the letter. He is in such a hurry to do this, he does not give Cephas an opportunity to respond even to a question, which Paul directed to Cephas (Gal 2:14). 

(10) Paul's questioning of Cephas appears to be a rhetorical ploy, a launching pad for the dense and forceful remarks, which follow.

Paul's narrative also serves as a launching pad for Professor Kahl. 

Throughout her book, Professor Kahl argues that Paul's anti-nomos critique is directed at Roman law, not at Torah. 

Consistent with this, Kahl does not see in these verses an occasion for Paul to denounce the Torah observance of those whom Paul calls "those of the circumcised" (2:12). Nor does Kahl observe that the issue in dispute in these verses is table fellowship, not circumcision. 

Kahl understands Paul to be taking to task those who withdrew from the Gentiles, not because of their Torah observance but rather because the separators demonstrated "collective hypocrisy . . . as an idolatrous act of public window dressing that officially quotes Jewish law but secretly bows to civic religion and order."

This comment is typical of Kahl's analysis of the Galatians letter, as we find here 

- a generalized reference to "hypocrisy" in lieu of a specific comment about the actual issue in dispute: table fellowship;
- an illusion to a public  display of some kind, which is not otherwise apparent or even detectable in Paul's statements;
- the characterization of some aspects as secret;
- allusion to Roman civic religion and order, although the actual language found in the pericope under study does not readily suggest any such thing.

Kahl emphasizes (also p. 278), "Peter's enforced 'judaizing' of the Gentiles . . . as in fact a gesture of civic/imperial conformism . . . ." 

But Peter (Cephas) may have been a passive or a vacillating actor, conducting himself first in one way, then in another in Antioch. 

In Gal 2:12, Cephas entering into table fellowship with Gentiles is described in the imperfect, active indicative -   
which is common to story telling but which may suggest repeated past activity - 'Cephas used to eat. . .' or 'Cephas was eating . . .'

In either case, Professor Kahl's comments do not address Cephas' initial willingness to share table fellowship with non-Jewish messianists in Antioch. 

It's not clear to me why Kahl characterizes Peter (Cephas) as enforcing anything on Christian Gentiles, when the issue is whether Christian Jews must be Torah observant at table. 

Kahl associates the perspective of Torah observant messianists as public window dressing but there is nothing I can detect in Paul's telling that indicates a public aspect to gatherings for the sharing of a common meal. 

The absence of a public component in Paul's retelling of his dispute with observant Christian Jews is a difficulty for Kahl's theory, that Gentile males in the province of Galatia were urged by synagogue representatives either to become circumcised or return to participation in public worship of the emperor. 

There is no evidence that I know of that Roman authorities punished ordinary residents of occupied cities, who did not attend public festivals and events staged in the arenas. 

Nor is there much to suggest that Roman-occupied populations eschewed such sponsored, public activities out of religious sensitivity.

There seems to have been a distinction drawn in the empire at this time between temple worship of the emperor and public spectacles. Emperor worship was conducted though religious observances, which also focused on officially accepted divinities, who were worshipped privately at temples build for this purpose. 

Public spectacles, on the other hand, were intended as entertainments for the occupied urban populace. At these events, the emperor was honored, to be sure, but not in such a manner that non-attendance was punished.  

Interestingly, and in a way supportive of Kahl's invitation to re-imagine the context of Paul's Galatians letter, gatherings for a common meal - but not gatherings for worship - might have caused trouble with the Roman administration in Syrian Antioch. This seems to have been the case in Anatolia (north Galatia) a few decades later, when Pliny the Younger served there as governor under Trajan. The Romans were nervous about unsanctioned social gatherings. (See an earlier post.) 

But getting back to Gal 2:11-14, there is a forced quality about Kahl's construal of Paul's statements to find in them a Jewish anxiety about public worship of the emperor, discovered in the conduct of Christian Jews, who wished to maintain an allegiance to some aspects of Torah observance, including kosher meals. 

NOTE: The Greek text of Galatians has been taken from

Greek New Testament